Did you know that we have trillions of microorganisms in our gut? Only 10% of the DNA in our body is human!
How we process and absorb food varies between individuals. Why do some people not tolerate certain foods and others do? For those that follow the Zoe programme, you may already be aware that we have a gut microbiome. We all have a different composition of species in our gut, and there are two main groups – Bacteroidetes, and firmicutes, making up 90% of the microbiome.
Our microbiome is influenced and changes with diet and other behaviours. Studies seem to indicate the more diverse our microbiome the better our health. Our microbiome feed from the fibre in our diet and produce short chain fatty acids (SCFA), which then do many beneficial things in the body such as:
When there is an imbalance or loss of beneficial bacteria, we call this gut dysbiosis. Gut dysbiosis can lead to obesity, cardiovascular disease, multiple sclerosis, and autoimmune disease. Factors contributing to dysbiosis include inactivity, antibiotics, chemical exposure, poor diet, poor sleep, and stress.
The best way to help your microbiome is to eat a high fibre diet with a wide range of plant-based food of different colours. The recommended intake of fibre is 30g per day, but most people struggle to do this. Fibre is essential for the gut bacteria to survive. This is why having a diet low in fibre e.g., lots of processed food, can be detrimental to your health and lead to dysbiosis (an imbalance or loss of good bacteria).
When looking at diet, we can use prebiotics – non-digestible food, that will be fermented in the colon by gut bacteria. Examples include garlic, onions, leeks, asparagus, artichokes, barley, oats, wheat, wholegrains, beans. But be careful, as having too many prebiotics can initially cause bloating, especially if your gut is not used to this. Prebiotics will help to feed the bacteria and promote growth and diversity. We also have probiotics – foods that contain live beneficial bacteria. Examples include sauerkraut, kimchi, tempeh, miso, kefir, kombucha. These can be helpful in improving the composition, diversity and therefore the function of your gut microbiome.
Recent studies have shown that exercise can enhance the number of beneficial microbes and increase diversity. Exercise has a whole host of other benefits for the gut, it can reduce inflammation and reduce the risk of colon cancer, diverticulosis and inflammatory bowel disease!
Your gut and brain are connected and microbiome diversity is correlated with how well you sleep and the quality of your sleep. If you sleep well, this helps hormones that influence your appetite and food choices and you are more likely to eat food that helps your microbiome.
Research has suggested that stress can change the composition of the microbiome causing dysbiosis. So, to help your gut as well as getting a good night sleep and factoring in some exercise, it is useful to try practicing some relaxation/mindfulness or meditation as routine.
Our gut bugs are a very important component of our body, and we are only just beginning to discover all the amazing things they do. They have an influence on everything from our risk chronic disease to our mood, how we react to foods to how well our immune system is and even our risk of cancer. The moral of this story? Look after your gut microbiome and your gut microbiome will look after you.
Written by Dr Sherina Fernandes, March 2023